Welcome to the latest edition of Looks from Books, which aims to prove that you can look smart, while still being book-smart, too. Fashion inspiration can be found between the pages of your favorite stories, on well-designed book covers, and in your favorite characters… if you read closely enough.
This week, we’re focusing on Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle, a classic coming-of-age novel from across the pond.
Book Cover via Amazon
Inside Cover: A Little Bit of Background
I Capture the Castle is a popular coming-of-age novel in Britain, detailing a turning point in the life and loves of Cassandra Mortmain, a gifted seventeen-year-old out to “capture the castle” she lives in. The story is portrayed through a series of well-written journals.
Those whose troubles and triumphs Cassandra describes in her journals include her beautiful and ambitious older sister, Rose, her model stepmother, Topaz, and her “one hit wonder” of a writer father, whose money struggles keep the Mortmain family in genteel poverty, starving within the crumbling old castle they inhabit. Once the rich and handsome Cotton brothers enter the picture, however, the family’s typical way of life changes forever.
This was the author’s first novel, and despite its inherent value and popularity, it would not become her best-selling work: Dodie Smith would later gain widespread success for her now-famous sophomore novel, One Hundred and One Dalmatians.
A Fashionable Literacy
The US DVD Cover for I Capture the Castle, via Amazon
By far the most popular adaptation of the novel has been the 2003 feature film production of the classic love story, starring Romola Garai as Cassandra, and a young Rose Byrne as her sister, Rose. The movie sticks closely to the book’s plot, including only minor deviations as necessary.
The most obvious attraction for the movie, as exclaimed by many to whom I mentioned it, is the high caliber of “eye candy” filling the male roles: Henry Cavill plays Stephen, a farm hand enamored with Cassandra, Henry Thomas plays Simon Cotton, and Marc Blucas plays his brother, Neil.
The costumes in this movie adhere to the time period, so there’s lots of 1930s fashion eye candy as well!
Also, the girls themselves are well-read and literary-inclined by nature, and frequently discuss the works of the Brontë sisters, fairy tales, and — their favorites — Jane Austen novels. (See my post on Sense and Sensibility for more inspiration!)
How to Add Cassandra to Your Wardrobe
By integrating some key elements from the novel into your own wardrobe, you, too, can reference the classic novel while falling in love yourself… with some of these amazing outfits, of course!
Town and Country
In I Capture the Castle, among the many distinctions in class represented, there includes the particularly notable – especially in the eyes of our fashion-conscious teen narrator – difference between the fashions of town (specifically, London) and country (where the Mortmain family lives).
In the story, the inability to dress like a Londoner makes for some embarrassment on the parts of Rose and Cassandra, but as they move up in class, their journeys to and from the city increase in frequency, and they can afford to dress the part.
Pay homage to this distinction in class status by integrating pieces that are similarly distinct as “town” wear and “country” wear. A delicate top and textured skater skirt, paired with a bright nail polish, are fit for a night in the city, while a straw bowler hat, a denim jacket, and casual boots hearken back to the sisters’ rural upbringing. And like the girls find ways to exist in both societies, so do lace accents – here, they help us bridge the gap between the “town” top and the “country” boots.
Distinctions of Beauty and Love
In the novel, the two sisters — Rose and Cassandra — vie for both love and attention, as well as the title of “beauty”. Rose is the obvious object of such esteem, which her sister is quick to admit: Cassandra says, at one memorable point in the story, that she is only beautiful when not standing next to Rose. However, readers can see their differing types of beauty: whereas Rose’s rests on her “originality” and profound beauty, Cassandra’s is a quieter, more soft-spoken beauty. Both are beautiful, and both in love.
Recognize the ladies’ contrasting attitudes and strength in sisterhood by utilizing the novel’s most overt sign of beauty: flowers, much like the kind the two used to make into garlands on Midsummer’s Eve. In this outfit, Rose is represented by the bright and bold, namely the floral blazer and the rose bangle. Pay homage to Cassandra with the sweet eyelet floral dress, the flower-accented sandals, and the floral beaded headband.
Angels and Demons
Product Information: High Waisted Shorts – River Island, Faux Leather Top – Forever 21, White Blazer – H&M, Angel Wing Headband – River Island, Envelope Clutch – Fossil, Studded Chelsea Boots – Forever 21.
The introduction of the two main love interests comes directly after Rose has wished on the head of a gargoyle, jokingly saying that she would sell her soul to the devil to find some eligible men. Shortly thereafter, Simon’s shadow appears on the wall as the devil.
Strong undertones of religion run through the major decisions in the novel, as would be expected from a British town in between the wars. However, the strong imagery and emphasis on religion in the girls’ romances does bring forth the question: Who is really sacrificing what in these relationships?
Remark on the juxtaposition between what is hellish and what is heavenly in your own look, by mixing dark and edgy pieces with light, clean-cut items. Red high-waisted shorts and a faux leather crop top, when grounded with some metallic-edged boots, bring forth the dark undertones of Rose’s wish, while an angel wing headband, a bright white blazer, and a sleek envelope clutch all make things a little brighter, à la the Austen-like fairy tale she so desires.
What Do You Think?
Have you ever read I Capture the Castle, or any other works from Dodie Smith? Did you read it in high school? Have you seen the movie? What did you think of the novel and the elements at play? What do you think of the outfits and styling tips? Let me know, in the comments below!